BRIDGEWATER – The one thing that eluded the Watchung Hills High School softball team last season on the way to a state title was a county championship, which Hillsborough won by blanking the Warriors in last year’s final. And after an abysmal 2-11 start to this season, few expected the brown and gold would have a chance at revenge.
But after nine straight wins, Watchung Hills found itself with a chance at redemption for last year’s final and two losses to the Raiders earlier this year, and thanks to another stellar pitching performance by its senior ace and the biggest hit of their second baseman’s career, the Warriors not only put the first month of the season in the rearview mirror, they put it entirely out of sight.
Right-hander Juliana Raymond fired a two-hit shoutout and junior second baseman Morgan Bobrowski delivered the game-winning hit in the top of the seventh inning Friday night and sixth-seeded Watchung Hills earned its first county title in seven years, grabbing a 2-0 victory over top-seeded two-time defending champ Hillsborough in the Somerset County Tournament final at the Nap Torpey Athletic Complex.
“I’m just numb right now. I’m just numb,” said Watchung Hills first-year head coach Brian Figueredo, whose team finally reached the .500 mark, improving to 11-11 with Friday’s win. “It’s just an incredible, incredible effort, back and forth.”
More:Softball Player of the Week: Watchung Hills ace Jules Raymond is the Week 5 award winner
More:Softball roundup: Results, analysis, links for Skyland, GMC and area Union County
Raymond and her Raiders counterpart, Sarah Davenport, were locked in a fierce pitching duel for six innings, with the Warriors’ Sam Raymond’s second-inning single the only hit either pitcher allowed through five innings.
Hillsborough threatened in the bottom of the sixth inning, getting two-out singles from Claire Murphy and Clay’le Correa – the Raiders’ only hits of the evening — but Jules Raymond escaped, before her team broke through in the top of the seventh.
Tia Shikar drew a one-out walk, and after an out, lefty-swinging Maddie Moran shot a single to left field to make it first and second with two away. That brought up Bobrowski, who lashed a single to left field to plate Shikar, with Moran following her home when the ball was booted in the outfield.
“My approach is that I’m really looking for that changeup,” Bobrowski said. “She got me on it in my first at-bat, so I’m expecting it and looking for my pitch. I know I have runners on base in scoring position and I have to step up in that spot. I just did it for me team.”
“We all executed and kept fighting until the end,” said Raymond, who lost a crushing 2-1, 10-inning match with Boro the last time they played. “I was in the dugout and I looked up at the scoreboard and I saw all zeros in the top of the seventh with two outs and I thought this was going to be another extra-inning game. But other teams have had so many two-out rallies against us, it was our turn this time. I’m just so proud of all of us. And thank you, Morgan. God bless Morgan Bobrowski. She’s amazing.”
Raymond finished allowing two hits, two walks and she struck out nine, while Davenport surrendered two runs on three hits, a walk and struck out seven. It was a career low in any game started by the righty during her historic three-year varsity run – although she did tally the 950th strikeout of her career to close out the second inning, and sits at 954 for her career.
“It was a great game. We knocked on the door and we didn’t knock it in, and they knocked and did knock it in,” said Hillsborough skipper Cheryl Iaione, who was coaching in her 17th county final in the past 20 tournaments. “I knew this was going to be one of these games. I don’t care what their record is or what people say about them. I know who they are and what they are. They hung in there, Jules did a great job, Sarah did a great job. Defensively we played well, but offensively we got shut down. But hopefully we see them again (in states). I give them a lot of credit. They battled and they got the big hit and we didn’t, and that’s the name of the game.”
“I give her (Davenport) so much credit. She’s such an amazing pitcher,” Raymond said. “Sometimes, I go (online) and look at her stats, and I think this has to be a typo. There’s just no way she’s doing this. She’s so good. But that (rally) could have happened to them. This is just a game where stuff happens.”
What it means
The victory made sixth-seeded Watchung Hills (11-11) the first team seeded lower than No. 3 to win the tournament in, at least, 25 years – perhaps ever. It’s the program’s seventh-overall county championship and its first since 2016.
Hillsborough falls to 18-2, denying the Raiders the chance to become the first team to win three straight county titles since they did it in 2003-2005.
They said it
“I thought we did a great job all night putting the bat on the ball. She was not in double-digit strikeouts for the first time this year. But the biggest key of the game, as we talked about yesterday, was keeping their zero. You know you’re not scoring a ton of runs (against Davenport), so the longer you can keep their zero up, we can manufacture something, and we finally did during the seventh.” – Watchung Hills coach Brian Figueredo, whose team focused on putting the ball in play, through slaps, bunts and butcher-boy swings.
“I put Nicole (Cicchetti) back up in the No. 2 spot because she’s had some success against Davenport, and that gave us somebody near the bottom of the order who I knew could handle the bat. In these situations, you have to get (production) from 1-9. And you had Morgan in there who was the top hitter last year, and it’s a nice little weapon to have, and she came through. – Figueredo on Bobrowski’s heroics hitting in the No. 7 spot, after spending much of the past two years – including the past bunch of games — hitting No. 2.
Watchung Hills will play regular-season games against J.P. Stevens, Mount St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas and Roxbury next week as it prepares to open the state tournament the following week – likely as a Top 3 seed. Hillsborough, which projects as the No. 2 in North 2 Group 4, ahead of the Warriors and behind Hunterdon Central, will warm up for states with Vernon, West Windsor-=Plainsboro South and Kingsway next week.
Staff writer Simeon Pincus has been covering NJ sports since 1997, and has been on the softball beat since 1999. He can be reached atCourierSoftball@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @SimeonPincus
Leave a Reply